The Manhattan College Jaspers enter the 2016-2017 college basketball season with tame expectations. At least that’s what the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference coaches think.
On Oct. 18, the Jaspers were chosen by the 11 head coaches to finish sixth in the MAAC Preseason Poll. But while the Jaspers seem to be an afterthought in the MAAC, head coach Steve Masiello has his sights set on the big picture: the MAAC title.
“For us, all we care about—we want to do well all the time—but what it comes down to is that conference tournament,” Masiello said during the MAAC Preseason show. “That’s what we worry about. That’s when we want to be playing our best basketball for.”
Key to Manhattan’s success this season will be senior Rich Williams, who was voted onto the All-MAAC Second Team. The athletic wing averaged a career-best 14.8 points and 6.0 rebounds per game last season.
Williams has won two titles in three seasons at Manhattan, and will be looking to add a third this year.
“[Williams] now, playing in two NCAA’s, he wants to get to a third badly,” Masiello said, “and that’s something we want to rely on.”
Williams will be expected to take on a more significant leadership role this season, as he is one of two seniors on the team. Over the last three seasons, Manhattan has counted on strong leaders like Michael Alvarado, Emmy Andujar, Ashton Pankey and RaShawn Stores, who imposed their style of play on the opponents.
“I thought RaShawn Stores did such a phenomenal job for us over the years of just putting his will on games, and that’s something that we’re going to look for from [Williams], Masiello said. “He’s a Brooklyn guy. We want him to act that way. We want him to come on the court with a certain confidence to him, and we want the team to follow that.”
Ahead of Manhattan in the standings were Fairfield in fifth, Saint Peter’s in fourth, Iona in third, Siena in second and Monmouth in first. Monmouth, the favorites in the MAAC, return the same core of players who led the Hawks to a regular season title and a runner-up finish in the championship game.
The Siena Saints also return the same group of players who ended Manhattan’s season in the MAAC quarterfinals. The defending champs, the Iona Gaels, will see much turnover on the team, but bring in several transfers and newcomers like Jon Severe and Sam Cassell Jr.
It will be a tough task for the Jaspers to win their third title in four years in a competitive MAAC this year.
“I think the league is extremely competitive,” Masiello said. “I think obviously MAAC basketball is very underrated. You look at the success the league has had over the years and how many good teams we’ve had.”